Hanoi's West Side Story
Written by Gemma Price
Rising rents in other more central parts of Hanoi have slowly pushed local restaurateurs to the scenic shores of West Lake, or Tay Ho; now, this unique, up-and-coming quarter is a great place to experience both the traditional aspects of daily Vietnamese life, and some of the finest gastronomic experiences the city has to offer.
Media darling and TV chef Bobby Chinn’s signature restaurant was originally located at the edge of Hoan Kiem Lake in the city centre, but when his landlord jacked up the rent from US$20,000 to over US$40,000 a month, he upped sticks and relocated his boudoir-like signature bar and restaurant to the shores of Tay Ho. Today, this mainstay of Hanoi’s dining scene is a great place to smoke a hookah pipe and gossip over a cocktail, before retiring to one of the upstairs dining rooms for a delectable dinner.
But even before Bobby moved in, former Ritz Carlton chef Donald Berger was one of the first operators to recognise the area’s potential. He says that when he established Vine Restaurant there in 2003 there was little in the way of development, and people said he was “crazy” to open a fine dining restaurant in a predominantly residential area. Today Vine Restaurant has built a solid reputation for fine food and wine; customers can even don a lushly padded velour jacket and dine in the restaurant’s basement wine cellar – while its sister wine and cigar shop Vine Cellar Door is a great place to pick up wines and tobacco from the world’s top producers.
Food fanatic Berger left the business to start his own in 2007, and the four-storey, glass-fronted Don’s, which overlooks the lake’s waters to the Sheraton Hotel opposite, has become synonymous with fantastic international cuisine, from Mexican and comfort food such as pizzas and sandwiches to fine French cuisine, and is renowned for its extensive wine list and well-stocked humidor. The rooftop oyster bar is a particularly popular haunt among locals and expats, and can get pretty rowdy after dark.
Other must-go outlets in the Xuan Dieu area include the cutesy kitsch Love Chocolate Café, where waitresses wearing Parisian-style maids’ outfits serve a mouthwatering menu of chocolatey delights within a Victorian tea room-inspired setting; and the House of Son Tinh, where thirsty patrons can sample Western and Vietnamese dishes while working their way through the menu of home-distilled rice liquors and rice wine cocktails.
For a more regal experience, step through the heavy, elaborately carved wooden doors of Mandarin into Vietnam’s former feudal past to sample traditional Vietnamese cuisine fit for a king; pick up organic teas, coffees, and other organic produce from around the world at Betterday fair trade and organic shop; and mix with other customers beyond the narrow, red-and-white-striped facade of The Oasis Deli, where owner Marco, a native of Italy’s Ligurian coast, can usually be found weighing out imported cheese, cold cuts, and home-made guacamole dip and boscaiola sauce for local foodies.
Tay Ho’s tranquil waters are arguably at their most picture-perfect at dusk, and one of the best spots to unwind at the end of the day is the Intercontinental Hanoi Westlake’s spectacular sunset bar. Set at the end of a lamp-lit walkway right over the water, this is one of Tay Ho’s most chic upscale watering holes, popular with locals and expats alike for its tasty international cuisine and expertly mixed cocktails.
When Art Vietnam opened its first gallery in a traditional Vietnamese ‘tube house’ in Hanoi's ancient quarter, it quickly became recognised as the avant garde voice of Vietnamese art. Now housed in a large contemporary space, Art Vietnam Gallery comprises three floors of video, photography, painting, and sculpture, and marked the Hanoi 1,000 celebration with ‘Traces’, an exhibition by the gallery’s most senior artist Nguyen Cam who was exiled from his country in his youth. Bits of jute, calligraphic musings, prayer papers, ginkgo leaves, tea leaves, and other distinctly Vietnamese traces are imposed upon fractured landscapes illustrating an unspoken diary, exposed for all to see.
Nha Tho and Ly Quoc Su streets
Take a stroll along Hanoi’s charming Nha Tho and Ly Quoc Su streets, located on the fringe of mystical Hoan Kiem Lake, to discover quaint boutiques like Song, packed with elegant garments and soft furnishings in natural fabrics such as cotton and silk, and Mosaic, a home décor treasure trove of beaded cushions, lamps, and throws; as well as a wealth of cosy cafés and intimate restaurants.
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Art Vietnam Gallery
House of Son Tinh
Vine Wine boutique and restaurant
Vine Cellar Door
Don’s 16/27 Xuan Dieu
The Oasis Deli